Putting one document inside another

How to make one Word document appear in another document by linking or embedding.

A Word document can be placed inside another so it appears in the second document. This can be done as a ‘one-off’ insertion or a linking where changes to the source document automatically appear elsewhere.

For example is a company’s ‘Terms and Conditions’ which can be in a Word file and linked into letters or agreements as required. If the T&C document is changed, so will any documents that link to it.

This is useful for standard wording or sections that should be consistent across all documents in an organization. If you always use a single file as the source, you can be sure that the latest and correct version is used.

Document linking or embedding has been in Word for a long time but has been overshadowed by the more complex and confusing Master Documents. Linking or embedding is a lot simpler and is sufficient for most people.

The source document

The source document is any Word document, there’s no special preparation required. You can open and edit it just like any other document.

In this example we’ve made a short description of Office-Watch.com and put it in a separate document.

The source file can be as large as you like or a small as a single paragraph. It’s normally used for larger pieces of a document like a section or chapter.

The main document

The document you link into is also a standard Word document. We’re going to call it the main or destination document. Some call it the ‘master’ document but that’s liable to be confused with the Master Documents feature in Word.

Here’s a main document before we start linking:

There’s several ways to link the source document into the main one.

The ‘formal’ long method is to place the Word cursor where you want to insert the other document. Go to Insert | Object, Create from File and choose the source file.

Word will insert a full path plus file name to the document which you can change to just the file name if the main and source files are in the same folder. This is a good practice because it makes it easier to move both the main and source documents to another location.

Click OK and the source file contents will appear in the main file.

Another option is to simply drag the source document from Explorer and drop it into the Word document. This will embed the source document.

Yet another choice is to select the document in Explorer, switch to the Word document and choose Paste Special then either paste (embed) or paste link (link).

Anyway you do it, the source document appears in the main document seamlessly.

Linking vs Embedding

In the Object | Create from File dialog there’s an important option ‘Link as File’. This controls the two different ways that Word can put one document inside another … Embedding and Linking.


With ‘Link as File’ UNchecked – the source is embedded. This is a one-off copying of the source file.

Any later changes to the source are NOT reflected in the main document.

Embedding is similar to a simple copy and paste between documents except that the result is considered a separate part of the document which, as we’ll see, can be edited in its own area.


With ‘Link as File’ Checked – the source is linked with the main document. This is ongoing connection between the two documents.

Any later changes to the source document are reflected in the main document when you update the link.


Whether you link or embed, it’s possible to edit the document. Click inside the source text and a box will appear around it to indicate that.

Double-click inside the box and a second Word instance will open up letting you edit it.

If the document is linked, the source document will open up. Any changes you make will show up in all documents linked to that source document.

For an embedded document it’ll have a title showing that it’s a ‘Document in …’ followed by the name of the main document.


A linked document may not always show the most recent changes from the source file.

To force an update either select the linked section and press F9 (update fields) or right-click on the linked section and choose Update Link.

Under the hood

To see what’s happening in Word, press Alt+F9 to expose the field codes that control linking and embedding. Here’s the field codes for two links, the first is embedded and the second a dynamic link.


Unlike Master Documents, the formatting from the source document is usually retained in the main document.

There are switches in the LINK field code which control the formatting. The default is f 0 but that can be changed to f 2 to match the destination document’s formatting. There’s no dialog box option for this, you have to change the field code itself … with care!

Which version?

You’ll notice that we’ve not mentioned a version of Word so far. That’s because this is a very old Word feature that’s available to everyone. Aside from the menu vs ribbon interface difference, it’s been the same for many years.

The dialog box shown above (Create from File) hasn’t changed for ages.

Word 2007 / Word 2010

Insert, Object is tucked away on the Insert tab, in the Text section.

Paste Special is on the Home menu, Clipboard section.

Word 2003 and before

On the Insert menu go down to Object … or on the Edit menu, choose Paste Special.

And there’s more. You can link/embed Excel worksheets, use only part of a document and insert in a variety of formats. All of this we’ll cover in a future article.

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